Community mourns Williams

On the stage at Chico State’s Bell Memorial Union Auditorium Tuesday afternoon, Travis Williams’ white cowboy hat hung surrounded by flowers. A slide show of family snapshots set to Williams’ favorite music flickered on a screen above his open casket.

His family, teachers, co-workers and friends sang quietly along to Louis Armstrong’s It’s a Wonderful World, after Williams’ parents tearily accepted a certificate of achievement for Williams’ work in the university’s sociology department.

No trace remained of the bustling crowds and lively music that accompanied the Travis Williams’ memorial benefit dinner at the Holiday Inn the night before. Williams, a three-year staffer at the Holiday Inn, and off-and-on security guard at the hotel’s On the Rocks lounge, died last Thursday after attempting to break up a fight between lounge patrons in the hotel’s parking lot on Dec. 3.

Lloyd Murray, a recent parolee involved in the altercation reportedly struck Williams in the head, rendering Williams unconscious. Reports that Murray and others involved in the attack later kicked or beat Williams have since been discounted, but Williams’ fall to the pavement outside the Holiday Inn probably led to his death five days later. Williams is being charged with manslaughter, felony assault, violating parole and dissuading a witness. That last charge comes from a claim that he attempted to scare those present at the scene by telling them he is an “OG Norte” gang member.

The community response to the 22-year-old’s death has been overwhelming and uncommon. A number of people, organizations and companies from around Chico have volunteered time, money and space to the cause.

Chico State held the funeral on campus, and Enloe Medical Center, where Williams was treated, began a fund for his family.

Shocked friends, family, professors, administrators and students converged on Chico State’s Free Speech Area for a candlelight vigil Friday evening to mourn their loss and tcelebrate Williams’ life. Many in attendance, including Vice Mayor Maureen Kirk, denounced the recent increase of violent crimes in Chico as “unacceptable.”

The Chico community also responded by turning out in droves for Monday night’s spaghetti feed fund-raiser to lighten the financial burden for Williams’ family, and to object to senseless violence in general.

“It’s been a huge turnout,” said Pat Wilcox, the hotel’s director of catering as she stuffed $5 into an open register. “Plus donations, plus food. It’s been wonderful.”

Next to her sat a five-gallon water jug labeled “Travis Williams Memorial Fund, STOP THE VIOLENCE” full to the neck with cash.

The line at the Holiday Inn snaked through the building, around the corner and out to the front door. The wait bordered on 45 minutes for most of the four-hour event.

Holiday Inn co-workers and members of local organizations where Williams actively volunteered gave their time to prepare, serve, and clean up the meal. Some, like Bill Kelvin, a Chico State grad student and Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer, didn’t know Williams, but came to help anyway.

“A few students have died since I’ve been here, and I’ve never really done anything about it,” Kelvin said.

Williams, remembered for giving selflessly to others volunteered at Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Boys and Girls Club, and ARC. His friends and classmates described him as friendly and outgoing. He was also member of Phi Kappa Tau, the fraternity banned from Chico State for making a pornographic DVD.

“Travis was very active in [the frat] for a very short period of time. Then he started moving forward with his life,” explained Chris Davis, a good friend of Travis’ from Rocklin High.

Williams wanted to travel, Davis said, and after teaching English in Thailand and volunteering there after the tsunami, “he came back with a purpose in life: to help people. He truly believed the world could be a better place. He wanted to make it that place. That’s where Travis is right now, in a better place.”